Thursday, May 10

Woe To Me ~ or ~ The One Page Synopsis

You hear it all the time: 'How can they want only one page?', 'That's not possible for my book.", 'That is what a query is for.', etc, etc, etc... Now, I am by no means an authority on the subject, but I have written quite a few one pagers in my day, and know of a fact that it is possible. I have also found a few things that have helped me along the way, and think maybe they could help you too. So here it goes...

Yes, more and more agents and editors are wanting one--yes one--page synopses of your book, and yes it is possible.

Is it easy? No.
Is it fun? No.
Does it make your book, which you have spent countless hours writing, editing, crafting, and perfecting sound like an utterly horrible piece of crap that no one would ever want to read? Yes.
Is that bad? No.

What you have to remember is that agents and editors are not reading your synopsis--or your book, for that matter--for enjoyment. Sure, they want to enjoy it, but that's not really the point.  It is your job interview. They are using these items do determine if they want to go into business with you. The point of the one page synopsis in this process is to determine, without having to read the entire book, if you know how to craft a story. To see if you know how to create a satisfying and engaging beginning, middle, and end.

Sidebar: While we are on the subject of endings, never, ever, EVER leave out the ending of your book in a synopsis. No, you are not ruining the book, agents and editors need to know this information. Leaving the ending off is the equivalent of going to a job interview, and the boss asking you, "What do you believe you can bring to our company," and you reply, "Lots of great stuff, but you will just have to hire me to find out what." Needless to say, you will not be getting the job.
End Sidebar.

"But,it's just not possible, my book is too long/involved/too many characters/too many years pass/too much subplot to be summed up in only a page.

Okay, let's get real for a second. If War and Peace, one of the longest books ever written can be summed up by Wikipedia in five pages of 12 pt. Times New Roman font (and it is, I've checked) then your novel can be summarized in one.

But nothing. It can.

How, you ask? Easy, just tell what happens.

ONLY what happens and in what order. NOT how the characters feel about it. NOT what the characters think about it. No emotion; just what happens and when. Yes, it will be dry, and boring, and dull, but agents and editors know how to read through that. They will know that your book is not boring just because your one page synopsis is.

Those of you that know me have probably heard me use that War and Peace example before, so here is another: The following is the short synopsis for Jame Eyre, courtesy of Wikipedia. This is a book which has approximately 500 pages (anywhere from 433 to 646 depending on the edition), and the following summary is one and a half pages in length at 12 point Times New Roman.
(The synopsis is in purple lettering. Skip to the end of the purple if you do not wish to read.)

     The novel begins with a ten-year-old orphan named Jane Eyre who is living with her maternal uncle's family, the Reeds, as her uncle's dying wish. Jane’s aunt Sarah Reed does not like her and treats her like a servant. She and her three children are abusive to Jane, physically and emotionally. One day Jane is locked in the red room, where her uncle died, and panics after seeing visions of him. She is finally rescued when she is allowed to attend Lowood School for Girls.
     Jane arrives at Lowood Institution, a charity school, the head of which (Brocklehurst) has been told that she is deceitful. During an inspection, Jane accidentally breaks her slate, and is branded a liar and shames her before the entire assembly. Jane is comforted by her friend, Helen Burns. The eighty pupils at Lowood are subjected to cold rooms, poor meals, and thin clothing. Many students fall ill when a typhus epidemic strikes. Jane's friend Helen dies of consumption in her arms. When Mr. Brocklehurst's neglect and dishonesty are discovered, several benefactors erect a new building and conditions at the school improve dramatically.
     After six years as a student and two years as a teacher, Jane decides to leave Lowood. She advertises her services as a governess, and receives one reply from Alice Fairfax, the housekeeper at Thornfield Hall. She takes the position, teaching Adele Varens, a young French girl. While Jane is walking one night to a nearby town, a horseman passes her. The horse slips on ice and throws the rider. She helps him to the horse. Later, back at the mansion she learns that this man is Edward Rochester, master of the house. He teases her, asking whether she bewitched his horse to make him fall. Adele is his ward, left in Mr. Rochester's care when her mother died. Mr. Rochester and Jane enjoy each other's company and spend many hours together.
     Odd things start to happen at the house, such as a strange laugh, a mysterious fire in Mr. Rochester's room, on which Jane throws water, and an attack on Rochester's house guest, Mr. Mason. Jane receives word that her aunt was calling for her, after being in much grief because her son has died. She returns to Gateshead and remains there for a month caring for her dying aunt. Mrs. Reed gives Jane a letter from Jane's paternal uncle, Mr John Eyre, asking for her to live with him. Mrs. Reed admits to telling her uncle that Jane had died of fever at Lowood. Soon after, Jane's aunt dies, and she returns to Thornfield. Jane begins to communicate to her uncle John Eyre.
     After returning to Thornfield, Jane broods over Mr. Rochester's impending marriage to Blanche Ingram. But on a midsummer evening, he proclaims his love for Jane and proposes. As she prepares for her wedding, Jane's forebodings arise when a strange, savage-looking woman sneaks into her room one night and rips her wedding veil in two. As with the previous mysterious events, Mr. Rochester attributes the incident to drunkenness on the part of Grace Poole, one of his servants. During the wedding ceremony, Mr. Mason and a lawyer declare that Mr. Rochester cannot marry because he is still married to Mr. Mason’s sister Bertha. Mr. Rochester admits this is true, but explains that his father tricked him into the marriage for her money. Once they were united, he discovered that she was rapidly descending into madness and eventually locked her away in Thornfield, hiring Grace Poole as a nurse to look after her. When Grace gets drunk, his wife escapes, and causes the strange happenings at Thornfield. Mr. Rochester asks Jane to go with him to the south of France, and live as husband and wife, even though they cannot be married. Refusing to go against her principles, and despite her love for him, Jane leaves Thornfield in the middle of the night.
     Jane travels through England using the little money she had saved. She accidentally leaves her bundle of possessions on a coach and has to sleep on the moor, trying to trade her scarf and gloves for food. Exhausted, she makes her way to the home of Diana and Mary Rivers, but is turned away by the housekeeper. She faints on the doorstep, preparing for her death. St. John Rivers, Diana and Mary's brother and a clergyman, saves her. After she regains her health, St. John finds her a teaching position at a nearby charity school. Jane becomes good friends with the sisters, but St. John remains reserved.
   The sisters leave for governess jobs and St. John becomes closer with Jane. St. John discovers Jane's true identity, and astounds her by showing her a letter stating that her uncle John Eyre has died and left her his entire fortune of £20. When Jane questions him further, St. John reveals that John is also his and his sisters' uncle. They had once hoped for a share of the inheritance, but have since resigned themselves to nothing. Jane, overjoyed by finding her family, insists on sharing the money equally with her cousins, and Diana and Mary come to Moor House to stay.
    Thinking she will make a suitable missionary's wife, St. John asks Jane to marry him and to go with him to India, not out of love, but out of duty. Jane initially accepts going to India, but rejects the marriage proposal, suggesting they travel as brother and sister. As soon as Jane's resolve against marriage to St. John begins to weaken, she mysteriously hears Mr. Rochester's voice calling her name. Jane then returns to Thornfield to find only blackened ruins. She learns that Mr. Rochester's wife set the house on fire and committed suicide by jumping from the roof. In his rescue attempts, Mr. Rochester lost a hand and his eyesight. Jane reunites with him, but he fears that she will be repulsed by his condition. When Jane assures him of her love and tells him that she will never leave him, Mr. Rochester again proposes and they are married. He eventually recovers enough sight to see their first-born son.

There you have it. Jane Eyre is one of the most romantic books of the era--do you get that from the synopsis? No, not at all. It is simply what happens and when. Very matter-of-fact. No thoughts; no emotion.

Now just so we are clear, everything I have said applies only to the one page synopsis. Longer synopses of the 3, 5 or more pages will be much more interesting, and 'meatier', if you will. These longer synopses are the should have some emotion and style to them, and will be used to sell your book. They will not only tell your story, but also portray the feel and atmosphere of your book. But this is not a problem, because you have more space to to it in. And trust me, once you master the one page synopsis, anything more just feels like gravy. :)

Well, I suppose I am done preaching. I hope some of this was helpful to a few of you out there, and for the rest of you, if you are still reading, consider this a pat on the back from me. *pat*pat*pat*  :)


  1. Leaving the ending off is the equivalent of going to a job interview, and the boss asking you, "What do you believe you can bring to our company," and you reply, "Lots of great stuff, but you will just have to hire me to find out what."

    Ha ha, Great comparison. My synopsis for my first published novel, With Good Behavior, was something like 30 pages! I had bad advice from a book on publishing your novel, evidently. Poor Lisa O'Hara had to wade through my verbal vomit but somehow still asked for the first 3 chapters.

  2. Verbal vomit, I like it! :) But you see, that just means it was meant to be!